Hike El Cajon Mountain

San Diego El Cajon Mountain Trail

  • Activities:

    Hiking, Fitness

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Year Round

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    12 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    4100 Feet

Easy Parking

This is great training for higher elevation trips to the sierras. 12 miles roundtrip with the potential to add 2 miles to the cliff overlook. Elevation gain 4100'Duration: 4-6 hours.

This challenging trek is a great way to get in shape for that spring or summer trip to the Sierras. You may have heard others tell you how tough the hike is and they're not kidding. You'll be gaining 4100 feet over the 12 miles to the peak and back. If you have the time and the energy, you should keep heading past the peak to check out the cliff overlooks. This small detour will only add 2 miles to your total hike and is well worth it.

There is easy parking at the parking lot for the trail, but it doesn't open until 7am. If you're looking to get an early start on this long hike, you can park on the road next to the lot. Once you've got your gear and your boots on, head down Shenma Road, past Blue Sky Ranch, and hit the trail. If you were worried about bathrooms, rest easy. There's a bathroom at the start of the trail.

Once you're moving, you'll notice that the trail is well marked with mileage markers and elevation. You can use these to keep track of your progress and make sure you're back at the car on time. The hike to the peak isn't entirely uphill; you'll be climbing and descending hills as you head toward the peak. When you pass the rusted jeep, you can breath a sigh of relief knowing that you're close to the peak. Just past the jeep, the trail will split. If you head to the Left, you'll be on track to El Cajon Mountain. If you choose to go right, you'll have a little shorter hike to El Captian Mountain. At the summit, break out your water bottle and snacks and enjoy views of the El Cajon Reservoir. After you summit El Cajon, head back the way you came. When you reach the fork, you have the option to head to the cliff overlook if you've got the energy.

Once you've made it back to the parking lot, head to Eastbound Bar & Grill for a cold one.

Photos: Jerry Kurjian

Pack List

  • 10 Essentials
  • Daypack
  • Water
  • Solid pair of hiking boots or shoes
  • Cell phone - just in case
  • Trekking poles (optional)
Read More


Overall rating: 

Leave a Review

This trail kicked my butt and I consider myself in good shape! I recommend leaving early as the desert landscape heats up fast. Also bring water!! Pack more than you think you'll need and then more. We ran out with four miles left to get back to the parking lot at midday! Rough! There's also a lot of really cool bouldering opportunities the further up the trail you get. Advanced hikers will love this trail. But beginners beware! Yes, it is uphill both ways.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

I love this hike. It's one of the most challenging hikes I've done in San Diego, and also one of the most rewarding. It kept me working from trailhead to summit and back again, and it was worth every step. The views from the summit are spectacular. Just be sure to bring plenty of water. There's not much shade and you will need every last drop.

almost 2 years ago
almost 2 years ago

About to try this tomorrow! Thanks for the tip ;)

over 2 years ago
over 2 years ago

Are we missing something? Suggest an edit

Nearby Adventures

Hike the Ladder Canyon/Painted Canyon Loop

San Diego / Painted Canyon Trailhead

From Interstate 10, take State Highway 195 (Box Canyon Road) to Painted Canyon Road.

28 Saves

Swim in La Jolla Cove

San Diego / La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove is an iconic destination in San Diego for visitors and locals alike.

141 Saves

Hike the Calcite Mine Trail in the Anza-Borrego Desert

San Diego / Calcite Mine Road Lookout

Open from March until October - but I would not particularly recommend this hike in the summer months, unless you started in the wee almost dark hours.

53 Saves